Nostalgia Alone Won’t Save the Compact Disc!

By Mike Perez (Audio Arkitekts)

For many years, streaming has had a monopoly on the daily consumption of music. Back in the day, CDs and Vinyl were the gateway drug to music and, for many folks, an introduction to Hifi. You bought an album from an artist you were interested in because you wanted to listen to their songs, and those mediums served a useful purpose. However, with the advent of streaming, the meaning and value of physical media have completely changed.

With streaming at the fingertips of millions, physical media has become increasingly obsolete. People are having trouble wrapping their heads around the notion that for what they pay for just one album via CDs or Vinyl, they can pay a monthly subscription and have access to millions of songs. My issue with this is there isn’t a sense of ownership with the music; I feel like I am renting the music. I share the same sentiment with Netflix’s platform. I love how convenient streaming is; however, I would like to own some of those Netflix specials on 4K Blu-ray if they do away with the content or, God forbid, the platform goes altogether. But I digress. Albeit, vinyl sales have seen a considerable resurgence over the last several years. Over the last year, CDs have finally seen a slight increase in sales. There’s no question that digital file formats and streaming will continue to dictate human music consumption habits. For many listeners, physical media no longer serves the purpose of music consumption.

In the past, I have written and spoken about nostalgia being a significant reason behind the potential resurgence of the compact disc; however, that isn’t enough to make CDs relevant again. Nostalgia will only take physical media so far, like most 70s, ’80s, and some 90’s kids that remember and loved the format are quickly evolving into the world of streaming. The issue with CDs is that they are manufactured to grant access to music, placing themselves in direct competition with streaming. The CD will, unfortunately, lose this battle.

There is one solution that may work, CDs must be specifically designed & marketed to serve a new and separate purpose. Rather than just being a conduit between the device and the listener, CDs need to represent an investment in an artist.

The real question is, how much of a fan are you?

Do you love music and the artists that create the music enough to double down?

Buying an album can fulfill that desire to support your favorite artist. It can also meet your need to publicly show off your love for that artist by posting your newest addition to your physical media collection on your favorite social media platform. However, the #nowspinning hashtags, scantily clad vinyl models, and over-the-top vinyl Instagram accounts can get especially cringy. I almost feel like some of these people are showcasing their vinyl only because it’s cool to listen to vinyl right now. These practices make physical media a meaningless trend instead of a connection between you and the music. However, the reality of buying something you can touch, whether it be an album or band merch, is much more potent than streaming or downloading a song. It’s how true fans distinguish themselves from casual listeners.

While CDs are quite tangible, the way they are designed & offered doesn’t deliver a unique value in the same way that a piece of merchandise or the experience of attending a concert would provide you. Unfortunately, buying a physical album or streaming a digital album is perceived as the same thing.

What will set apart the CD from streaming?

With incredible Digital to Audio Converters within the HiFi Market, the quality is relatively indistinguishable unless you play from a high-end system and carefully listen for nuances between the two platforms. The SACD had a lot of potential and was intriguing, but it wasn’t widely adopted.

So, what will it take to convince the average consumer that it’s worth investing in a high-quality cd player and start purchasing CDs again? Or, at the same time, luring the diehard audiophile away from vinyl for a few moments to enjoy what the CD could become?

Well, the content, of course. This initiative will have to force artists to produce the absolute best content possible to set themselves apart and garner the attention of the new-age consumer. It’s the consensus of the masses that music isn’t as good as it once was.

Where are this generation’s Beethoven, Brahms, and Elvis Presley?

The quality of music currently produced is what’s turning off new listeners from enjoying music.

Since moving here to Colorado Springs, I have realized that music isn’t dead altogether; it’s been hiding in plain sight. I am a Modern Rock fanatic. I recently discovered a radio station here in town called 94.3 Kilo, and it constantly plays fantastic new music. I find myself using the Shazzam App more now than I ever have.

Many of you use Bluetooth through your phone to stream and have forgotten about the good ole radio. This station helped me realize there is new music worth listening to and adding to my personal playlists. So not all is lost. If more artists like the ones I have been discovering on the radio could maintain this quality of music they’re producing; it could very well breed new legends within the genre of music you enjoy. Something we, as music consumers, are in desperate need of—artists with actual marquee value.

However, no matter how amazing the music is, the artist needs to ensure that their minty fresh new CD can tell a story or convey a message and provide a memorable fan experience. Like the people have been collecting Funko pops and sports cards in the past, this needs to be the “new collectible” that fans will feel they HAVE to own rather than pass over. We can’t do this with those dusty rows of CDs sitting in record stores right now. You know what I’m talking about, they all practically look the same, and now they are starting to put them in sleeves to where you can’t even read the spine. Those sleeves will end up in the crack between your car’s seat and center console, where all the wild things go.

If you open most CDs that were mass-produced in the ’90s and 2000’s you will find a few things. A flimsy plastic case, a cd, and a booklet that often has some decent cover art, but inside, it just feels like you are watching the credits after the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I respect those who put together the production, but the consumer wants something special, not credits. The whole experience has become rather underwhelming and lacks any real value.

This is an opportunity to put something special in the booklet. Tell your story, share your message, and give some exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and tour shots, something that fans can’t get via streaming. The cover art looks lovely on the front screen of an excellent music streamer or up on the tv screen, so you can’t say the cover art is the reason to buy CDs. Why not do variants as Funko does? Have a “Chase” version of a limited-edition CD that is difficult to find with different versions featuring alternate art and maybe one of those trading cards containing a piece of cloth from a show, a guitar pick, or an autograph.

There are many different and creative ways to give back to the fans. Even go as far as including a chance to attend exclusive experiences like signings, concerts, etc. If it’s one thing I know from being a lifetime hobbyist and collector, I don’t want the “Diglets” (commons) of whatever I am into. I always desire the rarest and most unique version of that property if I am really into something. It makes me feel special; I can’t explain it. It’s a sense of exclusivity and prestige in owning something challenging to obtain.

I have noticed artists are releasing the “deluxe versions” of specific albums, which contain special goodies inside. I firmly believe the deluxe versions should be the standard version of their album on CD. K Pop group BTS albums have super deluxe packaging, making the CD the afterthought behind a thick photo book of concept pictures, collectible photo cards, thank you letters, and other types of exclusive content.

These added components give value back to the Compact Disc and let fans know that if you’re not purchasing the physical album and experiencing that first unboxing, you’re missing out on a large part of being a fan.

It might be many moons before CDs start to see a notable bullish trend, but now is as good a time as any to start thinking outside the box about its true potential. Ultimately, whether CD albums make a comeback will largely depend on whether the music industry chooses to accept it as a relevant medium to deliver a musical experience to the fans. The artists can create an entire ecosystem of experiences for enthusiasts, and physical media has the potential to be a staple in the industry.


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